THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
TV STORIES "REVENGE
OF THE CYBERMEN"
AND "TERROR OF THE
OFFICIAL BBC 'PAST
RELEASED IN SEPTEMBER
Harry is dead.
Having left him alone
in pre-war Britain,
the FOURTH Doctor
and Sarah try to
solve the mystery
of his death. But the
only witness is in aN
asylum, driven mad
by what he has seen.
He tells of murder
and mutilation, of
living trees and dead
legends, of wolfmen
and war... And of a
known only as "The
Can it be true that
Harry discovered the
last resting place of
the Holy Grail? Why
are the flowers and
trees in a Somerset
village in full bloom
at Christmas? And is
it just a coincidence
that Harry died
under a full moon... ?
With Doctor Who’s fortieth birthday just a couple of months away, Jacqueline Rayner provided readers with a new take on the multi-Doctor story. Wolfsbane boasts the fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith in one corner, and the lone, amnesiac and Earthbound eighth Doctor in the other. Dangling between them is the bewildered Harry Sullivan, a well-liked but seldom-seen companion who, according to the book’s blurb at least, died on 28th November 1936, some time between the TARDIS making an impromptu landing in pre-war Britain and it resuming course for Loch Ness. I don’t know about you, but I’m sold.
Wolfsbane is an absorbing tale for UNIT’s stalwart Surgeon-Lieutenant, expounding upon his character in such a fashion that puts his only previous outing in print to shame. In fact, Rayner’s rendering of Harry is so very illuminating that it put me in mind of her Companion Chronicles’ scripts for Big Finish. Harry Sullivan may not narrate the action here, but make no mistake - the reader is inside his head, privy to his most private ruminations.
I think the reason that Rayner’s
portrayal of Harry is so utterly
compelling is that it’s honest
and true, dwelling just as much
on his perceived failings as it
does on his strengths. All that
Bertie Wooster pomposity and
naiveté is there to be seen on
the page, only here Rayner could
push the envelope a little, forcing
him to deal with the advances of licentious lycanthropes, and do so without any aid from that
tall feller in the long scarf.
This novel even takes a moment to examine Harry’s nascent feelings for fellow companion Sarah Jane - feelings that have crept up on him unawares, surprising him almost as much as they do the reader – and his subsequent dilemma as he weighs them against his reluctance to travel in the TARDIS. Harry was roped into taking just one trip in the Doctor’s fantastical blue box, which - thanks to Time Lords and Time Rings and what have you - dragged on for far longer than he’d anticipated, relatively speaking. Wolfsbane marks only Harry’s second TARDIS landing, yet already it’s clear that he’s had his fill of adventuring in time and space.
However, as the book focuses so heavily on Harry, the rest of the regular characters are relegated to less ample roles. The fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane spend most of the tale on the periphery, and whilst the eighth Doctor does feature a lot more, he isn’t the heart of the novel as he was in those that Wolfsbane slides in between. Aside from a few remarkable passages that explore his literary aspirations (and the subliminal elements to be found in
his submissions to Astounding Stories!), here the eighth Doctor plays second fiddle to his erstwhile companion. They do make for an enchanting double-act, mind; I still haven’t got over Harry not enquiring amount the Doctor’s blue box as he was too embarrassed to bring
The plot is secondary to the characters, but solid nonetheless. Rayner fuses science and sorcery in a way that only Doctor Who can, taking werewolves, living trees, and even King Arthur and marrying them up with Nazis, concentration camps and timey-wimey twists that Steven Moffat would be proud of. There’s certainly something to be said for any novel bold enough to use werewolves a double-barrelled metaphor for Hitler’s subjugation of the Jews and his brainwashing of his foot soldiers.
The temporally-twisting dénouement is rewarding, not to mention jaw-droppingly astonishing. Looking at those bushy 1970s sideboards, Harry’s ultimate fate feels strangely apt, though Rayner is careful not to tie us down to just one finite outcome, her climax flowing beautifully into Justin Richards’ Sometime Never..., which would follow in early 2004.
Altogether then, Wolfsbane is an ambitious novel that delivers on its promise. Rayner offsets Hinchcliffe / Holmes horror with fun and frolics, and one of the most overbearing of Doctors with an eighth at his most restrained. At the end of the day though, this one belongs to Harry Sullivan, wherever (and whatever) he may now be…
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2010
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
For the fourth Doctor, these events take place between the television serials Revenge of the Cybermen and Terror of the Zygons. For the eighth, they take place approximately eighteen years after those depicted in Casualties of War and around six years prior to The Turing Test.
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